Here is why mysticism is a logical necessity: (1) We think in words, (2) Words are approximations, therefore (3) There are things which can not be expressed; this is the essence of the mystical.
As Wittgenstein states in proposition 6.522 of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus: “There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”
The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is, to a great extent, a logical proof of the necessity of mysticism. In a manner reminiscent of Lao Tzu’s writing of the Tao Te Ching, the words of this short book had to almost be bled out of Wittgenstein while he wrote it. Consider these two quotations:
“Those who speak, do not know; those who know, do not speak.”
— Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
Now consider how hard it is to write a treatise on the matter!
Consider all of the aspects of life which can not be adequately expressed in language: “love”, “beauty”, “flow”, “happiness”. In many ways, all of the things in life that matter most are the hardest to describe.
In many ways, all of the things in life that matter most are the hardest to describe.
Since his death in 1951, academic philosophers have tried to understand Wittgenstein’s work by turning it into “a system” or some other equally cruel torture. For me, his work is easy to understand, because his “philosophy” is “no-philosophy” – time and again he writes that philosophy is an activity of clarification, not an attempt at systematically writing down all the Truths of the world. One of the last sentences he wrote before his death, later published in the book On Certainty, was: “Doubting and non-doubting behavior. There is a first only if there is a second.” Thirty years before that, he wrote: “Skepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked. For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.” (TLP, proposition 6.51)
Is the point that Wittgenstein was a Taoist? No, of course not. What is important is that here we have the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, originally trained as an engineer, who becomes so deeply immersed in logic that he eventually realizes that it is a house of cards. In fact, in his later thought Wittgenstein began to describe logic as another form of what he called a “language game.” Such a game is fine, as long as everybody is playing by the same rule book. But, like any other game, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with life-as-we-live-it.
This mystical orientation in a logician is not limited to Wittgenstein; it is a fairly common phenomenon among logicians and theoretical mathematicians. For example, Raymond Smullyan, a mathematical logician with an international reputation, is also the author of The Tao is Silent – his ruminations upon the Tao.
So where does this all lead? I personally do not advocate that anyone accept any teaching uncritically. However, I think that some who would profit from the acceptance of mysticism are kept from doing so because they are afraid to admit a certain “illogic” into their lives. For those people, I offer Wittgenstein’s analysis of the nature of logic as the instrument to rid themselves of the chains of reliance on a stilted logic and to free themselves to experience the mystical in their lives.